While Russian Missiles Hit Ukraine, Western Tech Still Flowed


Kyiv, UKRAINE

With the tip of a hunting knife, a senior Ukrainian security official removed 18 screws and lifted the lid off a small black metal box. Inside were four sliding panels filled with dozens of computer chips.

It was the electronic brain of an unexploded Russian 9M727 cruise missile – one of the devastating weapons Russia has used to strike Ukraine since it invaded the country on February 24. Russian troops fired more than 3,650 missiles and guided rockets in the first five months. of the war, according to the Ukrainian authorities, destroying military targets as well as apartment buildings, shopping malls and killing hundreds of civilians. On July 14, three cruise missiles hit the town of Vinnytsia, killing 27 people, including a four-year-old girl, according to Ukrainian authorities. Russia says it only fires at military targets.

The black metal box, along with other Russian weapons shown to Reuters, were recovered from the battlefield by the Ukrainian military. They contain Russian electronic devices bearing Cyrillic inscriptions, sometimes handwritten.

But many of the most important electronic components inside are microcontrollers, programmable chips, and signal processors bearing the names of American chipmakers, including Texas Instruments Inc.; Altera, owned by Intel Corp; Xilinx, owned by Advanced Micro Devices Inc (AMD); and Maxim Integrated Products Inc, acquired last year by Analog Devices Inc. Chips made by Cypress Semiconductor, now owned by Germany’s Infineon AG, were also visible.

“It’s quite simple,” said the senior Ukrainian official, who requested anonymity for security reasons. “Without these American chips, Russian missiles and most Russian weapons would not work.”

Western components of Russian weapons were examined in an investigation by Reuters in conjunction with the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a London-based defense think tank, and iStories, a news site investigation focused on Russia.

While some of the most sophisticated Western chips in Russian weapons have been subject to special export licensing requirements for years, the investigation found that many weapons also contain ordinary computer chips and other components found in consumer products. These are easy to obtain and in many cases are not subject to export restrictions.

After the invasion, the United States and other countries banned high-tech exports to Russia in an attempt to cripple its defense industry, and tech companies announced they had halted all exports to Russia. . Yet the reporting team found that the flow of Western-branded computer parts to Russia has not stopped, with thousands of shipments since the invasion of Ukraine. Shippers were primarily unauthorized vendors, but also included some manufacturers.

Reuters provided AMD, Analog Devices, Infineon, Intel and Texas Instruments with data from Russian customs records on shipments of their products to Russia that arrived after the invasion.

Three of the manufacturers – AMD, Analog Devices and Infineon – said they launched internal investigations after Reuters provided customs data showing thousands of recent shipments of their products to Russia by third-party sellers. Infineon and Texas Instruments said the products they shipped were already in transit at the time of the invasion. Intel said the goods it was shipping were internal company deliveries before it ceased operations in Russia in early April.

Video: Russia’s Firepower

Asked about the use of their chips in Russian weapons systems, the companies said they complied with export controls and trade sanctions. Infineon said it was “deeply concerned if our products were to be used for purposes for which they were not intended”. Intel said it “does not support or condone our products being used to violate human rights.”

Russia’s reliance on Western electronics for its weapons systems has been known for years. Moscow has a long history of acquiring smuggled military-grade parts from the United States, including expensive specialty chips for satellites that can withstand radiation in space. On the day of the invasion, the White House announced that the United States and its allies were imposing “Russia-wide restrictions on semiconductors, telecommunications, encryption security, lasers, sensors , navigation, avionics and maritime technologies” which she said would “reduce Russia’s access to advanced technology. However, many non-military technology products remain exempt.

Russia describes the conflict as a special military operation aimed at disarming Ukraine. Moscow called the sanctions a hostile act and denied targeting civilians.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Commerce, which administers export restrictions, said: “Strong export controls put in place by the United States and 37 allies and partners are severely affecting China’s access. Russia to the items and technologies it needs to support its military aggression, including semiconductors. As time passes and their stocks continue to dwindle, our checks will bite even harder.

“We will remain vigilant and engaged with our allies and partners in enforcing our controls,” he said.

Microwave oven fries

The on-board computer system inside the cruise missile’s black metal box shows that Russia does not rely solely on cutting-edge technology for its precision weaponry. For example, pads on two of Texas Instruments’ chips – which process digital signals – showed that they were manufactured more than 30 years ago.

“For the most part, these are the same chips you find in your car or your microwave,” said a Ukrainian weapons expert with access to recovered Russian military hardware.

Gehan Amaratunga, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Cambridge, reviewed a list of more than 600 Western components compiled by RUSI and Reuters that have been found in Russian weapons and military systems recovered from Ukraine. “These are mostly off-the-shelf products that are dated and can be found in many industrial electronic systems,” he said. “As such, they are not specialist military specification products.”

Yet, he added, “it is the reality that all standard integrated circuits can be used for civilian and military purposes.”

“Attention! We are working normally. Our warehouses are ready to supply equipment to customers in the Russian Federation despite EU and US sanctions.

Despite what the West has described as an unprecedented series of tough sanctions against Russia, many basic electronic components are still not subject to export controls. And even if they are, there is a global galaxy of suppliers and traders in East Asia and other countries who are ready to ship them and often beyond the control of Western manufacturers.

A Reuters review of Russian customs records identified more than 15,000 shipments of Western electronic components that reached Russia after its February 24 invasion of Ukraine until the end of May. Manufacturers included AMD, Analog Devices, Infineon, Intel, and Texas Instruments.

The parts included microprocessors, programmable chips, storage devices and other items, according to Russian customs data.

Russia itself has made no secret of its desire to continue the flow of imported Western technological products. In June, President Vladimir Putin signed a law allowing Russian companies to import electrical devices and their components without permission from patent holders.

A Moscow-based computer retailer, Kvantech, now proclaims at the top of its website in Russian: “Warning! We work normally. Our warehouses are ready to supply equipment to customers in the Russian Federation despite EU and US sanctions.

The US Department of Commerce declined to comment. The EU did not respond to a request for comment.

The Russian website features the logos of more than half a dozen major US tech companies. Asked how Kvantech manages to keep sourcing Western hardware, a company official who only gave his name because Viktor said it was a “trade secret”.

Reuters obtained Russian customs records from three trade providers, including one that had data from 2022. To verify the most recent data, the news agency cross-checked a sample of that provider’s earlier records – including the date, buyer, seller, international product code and other information – with the other two sources and found to match.

Andre Tauber, spokesman for Infineon, said the German company had launched an internal investigation based on findings from Reuters, which identified more than 450 shipments to Russia between February 25 and May 30 of products made by Cypress Semiconductor, owned by Infineon. Reuters also uncovered nearly 2,500 shipments of Infineon products that arrived in Russia after the invasion.

“We are reviewing and verifying the information you have provided and will take appropriate action if necessary,” Tauber said. “Infineon takes this matter very seriously.”

He added that “Infineon has asked all channel partners globally to prevent shipments of Infineon products or services contrary to the sanctions and their spirit.” He said, “Compliance with applicable laws is of the utmost importance to Infineon, and we have established strong policies and processes to comply with those laws. It is proving difficult to monitor ongoing sales throughout the supply chain.

An AMD spokesperson said the company is investigating Russian customs data shared by Reuters showing that between March 2 and May 31 there were around 200 shipments of AMD components and nearly 700 shipments of Xilinx components. to Russia.

“The information shared is concerning,” a spokesperson said. Although the company has “not seen any diversion of AMD products to Russia…AMD takes these issues very seriously and we have begun a thorough review of the data to identify potential issues.”

Reuters shared Russian customs data with Analog Devices showing that since the invasion there have been more than 7,700 shipments to Russia of its components through the end of May. There were also nearly 900 shipments of parts made by Maxim Integrated, which is owned by Analog Devices, according to the data.

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